Thursday, February 28, 2008

Memory Lane: Dreams

After the last post on dreams, and all the kind and concerned responses, I decided to take a little inventory of the dreams I've had over the years. The ones that stuck with me. I have had vivid, wacky dreams since I was old enough to remember them; my personal favorite, from about 9 or 10 years of age, featured the Great Rapture, with Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed motorcycle policeman. He returned as I was playing slot machines in our basement next to the big waterbed in the laundry room (the waterbed and the washer and dryer really DID share a room in my childhood home). I passed up my chance to ride on the cycle with Jesus as we floated up into heaven, preferring to let that honor go to my little brother, who would enjoy it more...and remember waking up just as my feet were leaving the ground, watching neighbors and friends float through the trees over the corn fields.

Then there was one in which I was hiding with friends, from a giant extraterrestrial, in an alien supermarket. The shelves were enormous, as it was literally giant territory, and we hid behind some kind of jar or box. Maraschino cherries perhaps, or cornbread mix.

A recurring dream, which bordered on terrifying when it started at about age seven, occurred in a cavernous maze of passages and dark rooms. It is infused with something malevolent. I know there is no way out, but I still move forward. After being lost for some time, I eventually come upon a bland church-office-type room with a folding table (the banged-up kind used at potluck suppers) full of colored sweaters to be folded. They are the only items of color in the whole dream. This folding is of utmost importance but it frightens me and I seek out the bathroom. There, I find a toilet and a bathtub. Both of which are bottomless. The infinity of that dark water is what wakes me, fear of some deep and unknowable mystery at the bottom of the bathtub. I think I had this dream up until about 17 years of age...

(Maybe my mother was a bit too harsh on the whole folding-clothes-thing. I do remember BASKETS of underwear that she insisted we fold. Fold!)

When I moved to Brazil, my subconscious found new themes. Beaches. Heat. Men with guns that were a bit more detailed than the ones from my childhood. Cops. There were a series of translating dreams, from which I woke mentally exhausted from translating from Portuguese to English and back during the entire course of the dreams! After a few years of Rio de Janeiro, I had a series of recurring dreams about learning to drive stick. As driving generally terrifies me, and I have never managed to learn how to use pedals in general, much less with coordinated hand motions, these dreams gave me anxiety. And then frustration, as I woke and realized that I would actually have to learn to mess with the clutch and gear shifter should I ever work up the courage...things like that cannot be learned in dreams!

Creativity, however, can. How many times did I awake with the first few lines for a sure-to-be-Pulitzer novel in my head, awoke singing something so gorgeous that there were tears in my eyes, heard a joke so perfect I shook myself out of sleep with real laughter? Too many to count. Unfortunate, then, that these memories slipped away before they could be captured.

When I was younger, I devised a method for creating that perfect muse-ful moment of utter mental vulnerability right before sleep. I would sit in the regal orangey-red brass tacked chair, with my notebook before me and a pencil in my hand. Focusing on a particular writing challenge (a perfect ending for a poem, a story idea) I would close my eyes and let my brain wander to that near sleep place, hand dangled before me. Rocking into a dazed sleep, the movement of the pencil falling from my hand would wake me to write the resulting thoughts in a flurry of scribbles.

Even though the results weren't particularly earth-shattering, it was good practice. Today, I find myself writing my most honest things in the early morning. Empty my brain and my dreams into the computer or a nice black Moleskine. I put them aside and look a few days or weeks later. Sometimes, I don't even recognize my own words, as if they were in a stranger's voice, some other person's thoughts, experiences. With these new eyes, I see myself more fully, find hidden corners that my normal, critical self likes to ignore and leave to the cobwebs. Brushing them off reveals more than I intended. Perhaps that's the point of both writing and dreams. We can enter another world, play around, test the water, face fears. Sound out the very limits, court danger, soar. And in the process, though we may never discover how to shift into fourth gear, we awake to find the indelible mark of change upon these crusty eyes, new depths rising to meet us as we return to the world altered, yet unharmed.

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